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Flexibility, Sustainability and Inner Mastery: Unilever Examines the Future of Work


Unilever CEO Alan Jope, McKinsey’s Dame Vivian Hunt and WPP’s Mark Read share their vision for how leaders can shape the future of work and beat the talent crunch, writes LBB’s Laura Swinton

Flexibility, Sustainability and Inner Mastery: Unilever Examines the Future of Work
As 2022 approaches, leaders are trying to pin down their plans for a slippery, hard to predict long Covid reality. And when it comes to the workplace and even the nature of work itself, there are many as yet unresolved and potentially unresolvable questions looming. And when leaders are busy being agile and responsive to every new variant or change in regulations, it can be hard to take a moment and consider the longer view.

With that in mind, Unilever today hosted a Future of Work summit designed to help managers and leaders navigate the challenges and grasp the opportunities ahead. 

Streaming to over 8,000 viewers live, WPP CEO Mark Read addressed the most pressing, practical and logistical concern: namely flexibility around workplace and time.

“I think for many years, we had this notion of an office and 9-5, and we adapted our working life around those two constructs. We all know change is very hard to make but Covid will be the biggest. And it’s freed us from those constraints of office and time. So now we can design how we work around what we want to do so we have more flexibility. We really learnt how to trust and empower our people throughout the last few years. We can’t really forget that,” he said. 

While he acknowledged the talent challenges facing marketing and advertising, he also noted that this current moment was the perfect opportunity to purposefully design a more attractive workplace - though the focus was very much on drawing people back to the office. “I think we have to make this topic the Future of Work a competitive advantage for our company. We are in the world’s biggest talent shortage. How do we intentionally design workplaces to make them more attractive to people where people can come and do their best work? And how do we inspire those people back into the office?”

Dame Vivian Hunt took a higher level approach, addressing what she sees as two of the most important themes that businesses need to address. “First is sustainability- being sure that we don’t define it too narrowly. Clearly the path to net zero is one definition of sustainability… How do you have an accretive, value creating business model and an inclusive operating model and culture that you can demonstrate with evidence is equally challenging. Second is inclusion, even the language of how you think of social and outcomes inclusion as a business issue is new for many business leaders. Unilever is fluent at integrating multiple objectives into their brands, purpose and outcomes, but a lot of businesses don’t have the history, record and confidence to act.”

For leaders, these challenges can feel almost insurmountable - particularly challenges like inclusion, which involves dismantling systemic inequalities. In order to make the necessary changes, leaders must foster internal resources and strengths.

Alan Jope’s address shared his and Unilever’s perspective about how leaders can prepare for the future and the importance of emotional intelligence and energy levels to drive the external changes and to support the wider business to reach those external, organisational goals.

“It all has to link into the strategy of the business. All of this is to serve making better, more successful, more sustainable companies. And I think that’s what the leadership challenge is as well. There is definitely a new mode of leadership that is emerging. It’s got lots of different names... At Unilever, our view on leadership is that there are two components to it; your inner game and your outer game. And they are sequential.,” he said, before going on to explain: “The leaders of today have to master their inner game, be comfortable with incredible uncertainty and ambiguity, work from a sense of purpose. Be very clear on managing their own emotions and energy levels. And only once you’ve mastered your inner game are you able to operate your outer game, driving business performance, inspiring people, attracting talent, creating strategies. And of course, they integrate, when your outer game is running smoothly it certainly fuels up your inner game. That’s the model we believe that is the right model of leadership for now. But of course, it will keep changing.”

Watch the full summit here.

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 02 Dec 2021 15:41:03 GMT